The Golden Spruce died for our sins
A madman's sacrifice of a tree sacred to the people of Haida Gwaii can be seen as a story of spiritual redemption
October 1, 2005
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If Grant Hadwin isn't dead, most people think he should be. On the remote, rain-ravaged B.C. island of Haida Gwaii, a lot of natives and whites would be willing to kill him themselves.
Hadwin is the man who "murdered" the 300-year-old Golden Spruce, and then disappeared on the open sea, leaving behind only his battered kayak.
The Golden Spruce was the most sacred tree on Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.) It was revered by the Haida as their mythical tree of life, and viewed to be the soul of a transformed human.
Almost everyone else, even the loggers of tiny Port Clements and their forest companies, treated the Golden Spruce as a unique and luminescent specimen, a bit like an albino, since its needles were glowing yellow rather than green.
This inimitable tree was preserved even while the vast forest around it was being turned into an industrial clearcut.
Strangely enough, that's exactly why Hadwin swam naked across a frigid inlet in the middle of the night to chainsaw through the Golden Spruce's almost two-metre-wide trunk.
Most people feel what Hadwin did was unforgivable and that he deserves the worst.
They believe he was a psycho with a messiah complex.
And they're at least partly right.
But other people believe Hadwin's strategic savagery could turn into a story of spiritual redemption, which will help the world see that divinity radiates from the primal trees of the Pacific Northwest.
In his earlier life, Hadwin had been a king of clearcut logging, a driven, educated man raised in West Vancouver who made his fortune by using his intimate knowledge of B.C.'s wild terrain to build roads to cut down more trees faster.
But, one day, while retreating like a monk to the mountains of east-central B.C., Hadwin had an epiphany that made him end his commitment to rapacious logging, and his hard-drinking lifestyle, and start a crusade.
At that moment on the mountains overlooking McBride, Hadwin had a vision of the Creator forgiving his many sins and giving him a mission to protect B.C.'s forests from greedy logging.
He became an eco-zealot, first by engaging in sustainable forestry and eventually by haranguing everyone he could in officialdom about the need to put the brakes on irresponsible types of clearcutting.
In 1998, at his fragile wit's end, Hadwin cooked up a bizarre protest, a diabolical act of eco-terrorism he believed would teach British Columbians and the world a lesson they'd never forget.
He'd sacrifice the Golden Spruce -- to symbolize how the clearcut logging that was stripping most of the mountainsides and valleys of Haida Gwaii was just as bad as assassinating the wondrous Golden Spruce.
Hadwin's dark tale and its impact on the natives, foresters and eco-activists of B.C. plays out like a harrowing novel in Vancouver writer John Vaillant's remarkable new book, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Knopf Canada, $35.)
But since his book has been published, Vaillant has strived to make sure the story of the Golden Spruce doesn't end up being the account of a mere mad tragedy, encouraging only bitterness and despair over the fate of the planet.
"Hadwin had cut down what may have been the only tree on the continent capable of uniting natives, loggers and environmentalists, not to mention scientists, foresters and ordinary citizens in sorrow and anger," Vaillant says.
In talks Vaillant has been giving around the continent, including this fall in United Churches in Greater Vancouver, he has been focusing on the Golden Spruce's potential to launch an ecological rebirth.
Vaillant describes the increased cooperation the precious tree's destruction appears to be inspiring among natives, loggers, politicians, forestry company executives and environmentalists.
"There's a renewed determination. No one is saying 'Don't log any more.' But more people are saying, 'Don't rape any more,' " Vaillant says.
He also cites how cuttings of the famed Golden Spruce have now been spread around the world, growing possibly thousands of seedlings from the Netherlands to Korea, New York to Spain.
"The Golden Spruce's life is irrepressible," Vaillant says.
"It's beauty has attracted the attention of people all over the world who are devoted to nurturing wonder."
Sometimes Vaillant has been joined in his talks to congregations by Vancouver artist Ruth Jones, who travelled on a motorcycle in the early 1990s to see the Golden Spruce when it was standing.
Jones was so shocked by Hadwin's raging act of targeted violence that she devoted herself to producing a tapestry depicting Jesus Christ being hung on the matchless spruce's thick branches.
A member of St. Mary's Anglican Church in Kerrisdale, Jones sees the Golden Spruce as a martyr -- not only for the cause of protecting the environment, but for the defence of God's creation.
"The Golden Spruce suffered a martyrdom that will help generate something beyond what it would have if it remained only a revered tourist attraction," Jones has been telling mainline church congregations.
"The tree was sacrificed for the sake of the larger forest. It was too beautiful for a world struggling to see God's radiant image. We've seen this story before; it's the story of Christ's life, who suffered for challenging the established order and went on to have a second life."
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